The role of competition and habitat in structuring small mammal communities in a tropical montane ecosystem in southern India


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Small mammals were sampled in two natural habitats (montane stunted evergreen forests and montane grassland) and four anthropogenic habitats (tea, wattle, bluegum and pine plantation) in the Upper Nilgiris in southern India. Of the species trapped, eight were in montane evergreen forests and three were in other habitats. Habitat discrimination was studied in the rodents Rattus rattus and Mus famulus and the shrew Suncus montanus in the montane forest habitat. Multivariate tests on five variables (canopy cover, midstorey density, ground cover, tree density, canopy height) showed that R. rattus uses areas of higher tree density and lower canopy cover. Suncus montanus and M. famulus use habitat with higher tree density and ground cover and lower canopy height. Multivariate tests did not discriminate habitat use between the species. Univariate tests, however, showed that M. famulus uses areas of higher tree density than R. rattus and S. montanus. Rattus rattus was the dominant species in the montane forest, comprising 60.9+ of total density, while the rodent Millardia meltada was the dominant species in the grassland. Studies of spatial interaction between these two species in habitats where they coexisted showed neither overlap nor avoidance between the species. Rattus rattus, however, did use areas of lower ground cover than did M. meltada. The analysis of spatial interactions between the species, habitat discrimination and use, and the removal experiments suggest that interspecific competition may not be a strong force in structuring these small mammal communities. There are distinct patterns in the use of different habitats by some species, but microhabitat selection and segregation is weak. Other factors such as intraspecific competition may play a more important role in these communities.